Many sports injuries occur due to physical factors, such as a mistimed tackle in football to a poor landing in gymnastics. From an outside perspective, many injuries may seem accidental. However, once you start looking more closely at the psychology those involved in those accidents, then maybe a small amount of those accidents were down individual coping mechanisms to stress, rather than pure chance.
There are two types of stress – acute and chronic.
Acute stress is the most common form of stress and is commonly referred to as ‘on the spot’ stress. It is in response to an external factor to address the situation with a flood of hormone – also known as the fight or flight response. These factors can be wide ranging, from the pressure of missing a deadline, problems at work to performing in front of an audience.
Acute stress can be thrilling and alerting in the short term but can be exhausting if in large doses.
Chronic stress is not thrilling. It is the stress that is a constant in someone’s life, such as a bully at work, an unhappy marriage, spiralling debt etc. It is the stress that can lead to serious health consequences if not properly treated.
Every person is different and responds differently to stress and have different levels of coping abilities. Some may become seriously alert or pumped-up, another may be uncomfortable, nervous and reclusive. This is known as perceptual bias. For the majority of people, stress possesses more negative symptoms rather than positive ones.
Those who have a low threshold to stress will respond more negatively to its symptoms. Even a small stimulus of stress may cause an increase in anxiety. This makes it hard for the person to concentrate, reducing their attention span and increased muscular tension.
On the opposite end of the scale, a person who is pumped-up because of the stress may result in a burst of energy. While this can be beneficial, some people may become ‘overconfident’. This may result in risk-taking, lack of focus and increased the chance of injury.
With stress affecting everyone differently, the lack of focus results in missing cues for them to take actions. With many sports requiring more than one focal point, football players have to monitor where the ball is, other players are, where the goal is etc., stress can make players miss time-crucial cues.
For casual players of sports, it is more likely they will suffer a high-impact injury rather than an overuse injury. This is due to the lack of time spent playing the sport.
But stress caused by the lack of training and other factors may create muscular tension that players did not prepare for. Muscle tension can result in poor coordination and increase the risk of injury – such as a poor foot coordination which may result in a fall.
However, other physical activities can result in an overuse injury, such as cycling.
For professionals, technique and training will reduce the chances, but not eliminate, stress-related injury. The main issue for professionals is the stress created to outperform their competitors. This can lead to excessive training and participation in competitions and not allowing the body to relax and repair muscles and bone. This may lead to strains and stress fractures.
Luckily stress can be managed and can act as a preventative measure towards some sports injuries. While some stresses are caused by the sport and others from outside the sport, there are many treatments for either.
The most common treatment is having support from friends and family. If something is troubling you then talking can help alleviate stress – “a problem shared is a problem halved”.
For casual players feeling stress, simple breathing exercise, taking their time and avoiding overexertion will relieve stress.
For professionals, coaches and trainers will be able to provide lessons to manage stress, both internal and external. Many teach the professionals to embrace the stress of a game, rather than worry about poor performance. They will also teach the professionals about focusing on the present and what needs to be done, rather than focusing on their emotions.
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